What media companies own popular franchises now versus the 1980s?

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Decades ago, media ownership in the United States wasn’t as concentrated as it is today. In 1983, 50 companies owned 90% of American media. As of now, that 90% of media is now owned by five major media conglomerates:

  • Disney
  • Time Warner
  • Comcast
  • National Amusements (CBS and Viacom)
  • 21st Century Fox

And that’s soon to be down to four, per the Disney buyout of most of Fox’s assets. While it won’t change the number of conglomerates, a sale of Time Warner to AT&T is also still pending.

That led me to wonder: who owns a lot of older media favorites of mine nowadays? Below is a list of some popular media properties, and who owns them now versus 30 years ago (in 1988).

Star Trek

USS EnterpriseIn 1988: Gulf and Western (owners of Paramount Television)

In 2018: National Amusements (CBS owns the TV shows, Viacom the movies/home video rights)

Gulf and Western was a company founded in the 30s; they owned stakes in various industries (manufacturing, etc.). This included expanding into media; in the mid-60s, Gulf and Western bought Paramount and then Desilu (owners of “Star Trek”). “Star Trek” on TV got lumped under “Paramount Television” (the renamed Desilu) for decades.

Gulf and Western changed its name to Paramount Communications in 1989, then merged with Viacom in 1994. Today, “Star Trek” is owned by CBS and Viacom; while Viacom has home video/movie rights via Paramount, CBS owns the franchise proper. Thus, the reason “Star Trek: Discovery” is on CBS All Access.

Star Wars

In 1988: Lucasfilm

In 2018: Disney

George Lucas’ Lucasfilm was founded in 1971. Lucasfilm stayed an independent company until Disney’s buyout in 2012. 20th Century Fox distributed all of the “Star Wars” films up until that point.

Looney Tunes

In 1988: Warner Communications

In 2018: Time Warner

The Looney Tunes gang have stayed under the Warner Bros. umbrella since the company started making animated shorts in 1930. However, Warners’ parent company and corporate name have changed several times over the decades, through various mergers.

The company’s name was “Warner Communications” through the 70s and 80s; however, Warner merged with magazine publisher Time, Inc. in 1989 to form “Time Warner.” It’s since spun off the magazine side, but hasn’t changed its name (for some reason).

DC Comics

DC vs. Marvel
Art by Dan Jurgens.

In 1988: Warner Communications

In 2018: Time Warner

Kinney National Company bought DC in 1967. Kinney would buy Warner Bros. a few years later, before changing its name to “Warner Communications.”


In 1988: New World Pictures

In 2018: Disney

New World Pictures was an independent film studio/media company between 1970 (its founding) and 1997, when it was bought by Rupert Murdoch. It briefly owned Marvel’s parent company in the late 1980s.

Marvel went through several other owners, before Disney famously bought the House of Ideas in 2009.


In 1988: Great American Broadcasting

In 2018: Time Warner

Taft Broadcasting was a media company that assumed ownership of Hanna-Barbera in 1966. In 1987, a reorganization changed its name to “Great American Broadcasting.” In 1991, Turner bought Hanna-Barbera, using its properties to create Cartoon Network; Turner merged with Time Warner in 1996.

Hanna-Barbera officially went defunct in 2001, absorbed into Cartoon Network’s animation studio. Today, it exists as an in-name-only subsidiary and brand for the classic Hanna-Barbera properties.

The Muppets

Muppets Most WantedIn 1988: Jim Henson Productions (now Jim Henson Company)

In 2018: Disney

Jim Henson’s most famous creation is the Muppets, but Henson and his company also produced other characters, including the “Sesame Street” cast, “Fraggle Rock,” and others.

Ownership of the various characters have shifted several times since the 80s. As things now stand:

  • Disney’s owned the rights to the Muppets since 2004.
  • Sesame Workshop owns the “Sesame Street” characters, and has the right to use archival footage of Kermit’s old appearances on the show.
  • The Jim Henson Company owns “Fraggle Rock.”


Ultimately, a lot of our favorite media properties went from having multiple, often independent owners, down to the current handful of conglomerates. While further shakeups are possible, having only five (soon four) big voices instead of dozens doesn’t seem as healthy from a diversity standpoint.

Of course, there’s still alternatives. The Internet’s the biggest change in media since the 1980s; anyone (including yours truly) can now have a voice.

There’s also various independent alternatives to the media I listed above:

  • Lots of independently created animated cartoons exist on YouTube.
  • The main innovations in comics today are from webcomics and creator-owned/independent comics, not the “Big Two” of DC/Marvel.
  • Independently created science-fiction/fantasy literature also exists.
  • Finally, there’s PBS for non-commercial television.

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4 thoughts on “What media companies own popular franchises now versus the 1980s?

  1. I’d love to watch some independently created animated cartoons on YouTube. Of course, I could just do a search, but do you have any recommendations? Perhaps this would make a handy blog post!

    • I don’t really have an extensive list; it’s mostly a few parody or educational ones. “How It Should Have Ended” is enjoyable (if you’ve seen the movies), as is “Life Noggin” (educational shorts on a particular topic).

  2. I would have expected 21st Century Fox to merge with CBS/Viacom, rather than with Disney. It seems to me that, as far as animation is concerned, Fox’s cartoons have more in common with Nickelodeon than with Disney.

    • CBS/Viacom has their own ongoing issues (mostly with aging leadership, etc.), and isn’t quite as large (or wealthy) as Disney. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we do see something major happen with CBS/Viacom soon (per competition from Comcast, the merged Disney/Fox, and AT&T’s planned buyout of Time Warner).

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